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The Design

A Tour of Brooklyn Bridge Park with Michael Van Valkenburgh

Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh discusses the design and function of the park in this short video. The video was produced by Architectural Record magazine in association with a recent article on the park. Enjoy!

View the video on the following website:

Brooklyn’s Waterfront: Future History

Ethan Carr, Landscape Historian, August 2009

The post-industrial waterfront of Brooklyn presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and for the city as a whole. Eighty-five acres of new parkland—adjacent to 800 acres of open water and harbor views— make this the most auspicious Brooklyn park project since Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted designed Prospect Park 140 years ago. Great park projects in New York have never resulted in just local amenities. New York’s parks launched a national tradition of park making because they fused social functionality with the emotional impact of landscape aesthetics. Central and Prospect Parks succeeded as truly public art: sequences of landscape scenes that also served vital needs for fresh air, open spaces to play, lakes for boating and skating, and paths for walking and riding. This required a kind of alchemy that took the ordinary features of a site—rock outcrops, hydrologic patterns, topography—and transmuted them into nobler and more powerful versions of themselves.

Park Plan

Brooklyn Bridge Park demands to continue this tradition. This is not just a Brooklyn park or a New York park. It involves economic, social, and design issues that promise to change how Americans think about park making for the new century. The site, which exhibits some of the worst effects of mid-twentieth-century urbanization, embodies the kinds of challenges Olmsted and Vaux faced. The Central Park site, for example, was once considered to have little potential for beauty, until the designers demonstrated that it was, after all, pure gold.  Brooklyn has changed in 140 years, and successful park design will adapt to new populations and requirements of our modern times. But some basic human needs—to appreciate landscape beauty, to play in open space, to experience genuine public life and a sense of community— are still met by great parks. Well-designed parks still allow us to feel the magical sense of “enlarged freedom” that Olmsted described in the Long Meadow.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park site has landscape features—awesome views of harbor and skyline, a built shoreline shaped by trains and shipping, the imposing BQE—that will make it a great park. It is up to today’s designers, artists, and community residents to guide the creative transformation of place that is park making. The master plan presented here describes a framework for how a powerful park landscape can, again, address a new generation of vital social and environmental concerns.

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